Late in the evening about sundown

Today’s title is taken from Bill Monroe’s song Uncle Pen, written about his uncle, Pendleton Vandiver, with whom Bill lived after the death of his parents. They shared a cabin in Bill’s home town of Rosine, Kentucky, which is where we were headed on a sort of pilgrimage on Thursday morning.

Rosine sits just over a hundred miles from Nashville and most of the road is interstate, so we reckoned it would be a fairly straightforward drive. Which it was, apart from the rain.


Once we had driven into this storm, the wipers struggled to deal with the volume of water falling on to the windscreen. We slowed to an appropriate speed but were surprised by the number of vehicles that went whizzing by us in this weather. I guess they’re more used than we are to driving in torrential rain.

We eventually reached Rosine and the weather there was beautiful. There were a few spots I wanted to see here, but we stopped first at the Slick Back diner to get our bearings. It’s located in the building that used to be the town’s General Store.


The waitress there was keen to find out what had brought us to their town and was unsurprised to learn we were visiting Bill Monroe sites. She immediately went off and fetched some leaflets about the museum and the Monroe Home Place, both of which were on our agenda. She also told us where we could find the cemetery where the Monroes are buried.

After the diner, we went along to the Bill Monroe Museum which opened just a year ago. It houses a number of artefacts related to Bill’s life in Rosine and elsewhere. It’s obviously still a work in progress as they develop the exhibits but it was well worth the $5 admission charge.

From the museum, we decided to go and take a look at Uncle Pen’s cabin. The lady in the museum warned that it wasn’t open but we would be able to see the outside of it, at least.


We arrived at the cabin and there was one other visitor hanging around outside. A pleasant lady who asked us a few questions about where we were from and why we were interested in Bill Monroe. Then she asked if we wanted a look inside. It turned out that she wasn’t a visitor but was, in fact, Merlene Austin, the widow of Bill’s nephew. Last Christmas, Ishbel gave me an e-book of Bill’s history by a gentleman called Tom Ewing, a former Blue Grass Boy. Merlene features heavily in the acknowledgements in that book both for her recollections and for the number of photos she was able to provide. She showed us round the cabin and shared some personal reminiscences of the Monroes, which was lovely.

After the cabin, we drove over to the Monroe Home Place, which sits up on Jerusalem Ridge. Once again, we encountered a caretaker there who was a Rosine native and able to provide some direct connection to the Monroe family history.


After the Home Place, we drove back towards town and turned up towards the cemetery. Bill and Uncle Pen are both buried here and we wanted to visit their graves. As we turned in toward the graveyard, we noticed one other car there, which caused me a little confusion on where I should park to avoid blocking them in. The couple from the car were tending a nearby grave and the gentleman came over and pointed out a spot at an uninhabited cabin where we could leave our car. He asked which grave we were visiting and when we told him, he pointed us towards Bill’s and Uncle Pen’s monuments.



Having paid our respects, we walked back towards the car where the same gentleman engaged us in conversation. The grave he and his wife were tending was that of their son, who had died seven months to the day previously. They hadn’t missed a day at the gravesite since. But he also took time to share with us some of his own recollections of Bill Monroe. He was a local preacher and, in his youth, sang in a close harmony group.

I felt for his loss, and appreciated even more his generosity in telling a couple of stories to two foreign strangers.

There’s thirteen hundred and fifty-two guitar pickers in Nashville

That’s the claim in the song Nashville Cats by The Lovin’ Spoonful, which was also performed by Del McCoury at Merlefest on Sunday. Based on the evidence of our first day in the city, that’s a gross underestimate. John Sebastian did write it in the mid-60s so it’s safe to say guitar ownership in Nashville has risen exponentially since then.

We left Cherokee on Wednesday morning and stopped off to see yet another waterfall which was more or less on our route, Mingo Falls.


There is some truly stunning scenery in Western North Carolina and our route took us through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which was a beautiful drive. A great advantage of taking our time to make this trip is the latitude it gives us to choose scenic rather than rapid routes.

We still made it to Nashville by mid-afternoon, plus we had the extra hour we gained by moving from Eastern Time in North Carolina to Central Time in Tennessee. We checked into our hotel, which is on the outskirts of the city but very close to the Grand Ole Opry. And the decor in the room was an immediate reminder of that.


However, the gig we were going to on Wednesday night was in the centre, at the Ryman Auditorium. We had discovered that the legendary blues guitarist Buddy Guy was appearing there so we had managed to get a couple of tickets to go and see him perform. Buddy was ranked at No.23 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, ahead of some better known names such as Brian May and Prince.

We unpacked once again and took an Uber into the centre, grabbing an early dinner at a restaurant called Merchant’s which is housed in the building that used to be the hotel where artists playing at the Ryman would stay. We finished our meal and lingered over coffee, waiting for a thunderstorm to abate before we ventured outside. As we approached the Ryman, we passed a mural featuring many of the greats of country music, some of whom I recognised.

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The Ryman housed the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 until 1974 and is often referred to as the Mother Church of Country Music, partly because the building’s original purpose was the Union Gospel Tabernacle. It also claims credit for the birth of bluegrass.

IMG_3552 They certainly gave Bill Monroe the platform to bring his music into the living rooms of millions across the US thanks to the regular radio broadcasts of shows on the WSM station, which has broadcast the Saturday night shows every week since 1925. As well as the plaque above, Bill himself is immortalized in bronze, holding his Gibson F-5 mandolin.


I’m just hoping a little of the magic runs off. After all of the country and bluegrass references, it seems incongruous to be watching a blues concert. But what a concert. We seem destined at the moment to watch octogenarians who are absolute masters of their craft, and Buddy Guy really knows how to put on a show.


After the concert, we walked back down Broadway to let the crowds die down a little. We wanted a quiet drink but couldn’t find one. Every second building on this street is a bar, and every bar had live music playing. We had a choice of Country, Country-Rock, or Rock. Eventually, we found a place where the volume wasn’t turned up to eleven where we had a quick drink then Uber back to the hotel.

Music City lived up to its name. Tomorrow, we’re planning a side trip to the birthplace of a legend: Rosine, Kentucky.